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RV comeback drives hiring boom in Indiana town

RV sales have been especially important to Elkhart County, Indiana, where nearly half of the RVs on the road are made. NBC's John Yang reports.

GOSHEN, Ind. -- When you see an RV on the highway or in a campground, there's a good chance it came from this area of north-central Indiana: Almost half of RVs on the road today were made in Elkhart County.

When the recession hit and RV sales plunged (58 percent from 2006 from 2009), and unemployment here soared to the highest in the nation: a staggering 20.9 percent in March 2009, compared to the nationwide unemployment of 8.7 percent.

As the economy recovers, sales have come roaring back, rebounding 72 percent from 2009 to 2012. In April, the jobless rate was 8.2 percent, closer to the national average of 7.5 percent.

You can see the difference at Keystone RV, one the biggest makers of RV trailers, where production lines are humming.

"Business is certainly a lot better," Keystone president Matt Zimmerman said. "We're experiencing incredible growth, steady growth. We're still a little ways from that pre-recession-type number, but we like the trend and the pattern that we're seeing.”

It's showing in their payroll. As sales slowed, Keystone's workforce shrank to 1,900 in 2009. Now, they have a record 3,200 workers and are still hiring.

"There's a big demand (for workers), so naturally, the pay goes up," Zimmerman said. "I think you'll see that throughout the county. Everybody is forced to do that because the labor pool is getting a little bit tighter."

Keystone woodworker Marlin Hostetler is back at work after being laid off. During that time, he was forced to sell his house and move his family in with relatives.

"Now I'm back on my two feet again," Hostetler said. "We really rebounded from it. We had some big debts to pay off."

Matthew Miller, a recent Keystone hire, landed the job after looking for two months. He was in high school when the RV industry turned sour and watched as his dad got laid off.

"I could definitely tell there was a difference at home, for sure," Miller said.

Miller, who's married, has a two-year-old daughter and another child on the way, said he's not worried about the same thing happening to him.

"It's very comforting know that I can work at a place like this," he said, "not necessarily be worried about my job, and know that I'm going to be able to provide for my family."

The RV comeback has reached beyond Indiana’s borders. At CampingWorld in Santa Clarita, Calif., business is booming.

"Month after month, sales continue to go up," general sales manager Beau Bixey said. "I have more people walking around asking questions than I have sales people for."